The ‘Existential Crisis of Leadership’ in 2023


Opinion The ‘Existential Crisis of Leadership’ in 2023

May 3, 2023

Leaders and leadership are right now facing a very real ‘existential crisis’. 

Globally we have had nearly three years of pandemic, with Covid-19. We’re once again looking at the tragic spectre of war on the European continent. Recent years have seen reawakening and unrest in relation to racial injustice. We have increasing political polarisation, and ever-more disturbing environmental events. ‘Normal’ people are facing the dual impacts of a cost of living crisis and an energy crisis.

Leaders are those who ‘normal’ people see as responsible for causing, helping us avoid or guiding us through these events. And so, we stand at the epicentre of a storming global criticism of leadership. 

There are three important aspects to this criticism. Greed and Dishonesty, Inadequate Education, and Environmental Destruction. 

  1. Greed and gross dishonesty has led many people to question the morality of banks and corporations. Global corporations routinely subvert local and national laws. The inadequacies of the heroic leadermodel are all too clear. 
  2. MBA programmes, the business school system and management and leadership education within organisations still focus too heavily on a purely economic narrative. Despite significant evolution over the past 50 years, education for our leaders is not yet fit for purpose in a complex, interconnected world. 
  3. Many people despair at the continued denial of the environmental crisis. Global and local leadership seem to have ‘disconnected’ from nature. It’s as though their organisations are separate from the environment. Leaders are challenged for ‘ducking responsibility’, not managing finite resources or acting to redefine sustainable economic growth.

At face value it’s easy to blame and make everything wrong, but that misses the point. Management and leadership has come a long way over the past 50 years. Rather than throw out the past, NOW is the time – given the above – to consider what’s happening to leadership and management as a whole.

To put it succinctly, leaders and leadership face a full-blown existential crisis

What does this mean? An ‘existential crisis’ is a time when we question the very foundations of our lives. Whether what we’re trying to accomplish has any meaning, purpose or value. These crises can represent critical turning points in our lives. But, only if we self-reflect and ask ourselves some serious questions. 

With any existential crisis, solutions that focus only on changing ‘structures’ and ‘forms’ just add to the problem. This is because we’re trying to solve it at the same level at which it was created. 

To resolve an existential crisis, we have to look elsewhere. We need to think deeply about the essence of what is happening. We must wonder, ‘is another level of meaning or purpose trying to emerge?’

This is the problem Roger Evans tackles in his book, ‘5DL – Five Dimensions of Leadership’.

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